Latvian Hare Trio, Part 3: Hare Cheese, Onion Jam, Cornichons

This curious dish — which has very little to do with actual cheese — was actually what first motivated me to start my Latvian Hare Trio. The final result may look like a traditional pâté, but the preparation is quite different. Lesley Chamberlain’s Food and Cooking of Russia and Pokhlebkin’s Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples both contain fairly similar instructions: take a hare, roast it, braise it, grind it, then cook an omelette, grind it, and mix everything together with mushrooms and butter before baking in a dish, optionally wrapped in pastry.

I found that the result of this procedure had an unpleasantly dry mouthfeel, so I made several changes to improve it. In particular, cooking the leg meat as a confit was a big improvement, and it made little sense to use the precious hare loins. I also got rid of the bizarre ground omelette and used raw eggs to bind the forcemeat like a normal person. Finally, the onion jam and cornichons bring welcome touches of sweetness and acidity.

Latvian Hare Cheese

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Latvian Hare Trio, Part 2: Leg Confit, Potato Pancakes, Sauerkraut

After last week’s hare loin, this post features the hare legs with another group of typical Latvian winter flavors: potato, sauerkraut, and animal fat. The recipe is pretty short, because most of the work has been done during the hare preparation.

The only non-trivial element left is the potato pancakes. I’ve already talked about deruny here, but I’m taking a different approach today, simply slicing the potatoes and relying on the starch and salt to bind them all together.

Finally, if you want to make the dish a little bit healthier but still recognizably Latvian, you could prepare a wine reduction to drizzle on the meat, instead of the fat!

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Hare Preparation: Loin Medallion And Leg Confit

Of all game meats, hare is one of the most full-flavored, and one of the most vilified. After all, not only are you eating a rodent, but the critter’s constant running suggests a tough hunt and even tougher meat. To make matters worse, nothing screams dead animal nearly as loud as hung hare meat (at least among the meats available for sale); the smell and taste really need to be acquired.

In New York State, you’re allowed to hunt hares, but not to trap them. As a beginner, my first hunting attempt was totally hopeless, even with the help of a guide and a couple of pointer dogs. Whether you entertain the foolish idea of catching your own wild bunny, or you prefer to let professionals do the hard work and you purchase it (e.g. from D’Artagnan if you live in the US), hare remains a rare and expensive treat. You’ll want to prepare it right. And even if you’re a game lover, you might want to take the gaminess down a notch.

Stamp from Czechoslovakia - 1966

This post will explain how to prepare hare in two different ways, which you can use as the bases for your own recipes (I’ll give you my own Eastern European version in the coming weeks, of course). The wine marinade may not really tenderize the meat as was once believed, but it certainly makes the hare flavor more… accessible. The transglutaminased loins yield two superb medallions to enjoy lightly seared, and the slow-cooked leg confit prevents the meat from getting dry or tough. Both could taste pretty good with a wine reduction.

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Wild Turkey, Raisin and Butternut Squash Plov

Spring turkey hunting season lasts the whole month of May in New York State, and a couple of weeks ago, I went upstate to try for a few birds with Hunstman Wayne. I’d already gone on a turkey hunt with Wayne in 2011, but I had missed my chance, mostly because of my lack of experience. This year, I was back with a vengeance, and, hopefully, better confidence in my shooting skills — all those hours at the Westside Rifle & Pistol Range have to bear fruit at some point, right?

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Goose Confit, Sausages, and More

In Hungary, raising geese is a centuries-old tradition, its secrets handed down from generation to generation. A whole bird is used to prepare all kinds of dishes: roasts, soups, and even fat that will be spread on bread. Similarly, I wanted to explore a variety of ways to prepare all the parts of a goose, thus providing an exciting alternative to a whole roast, where, invariably, the breast is overcooked or the legs are underdone. I’ll let you decide how you want to piece all these recipes together; you could try serving all the elements over some flageolet beans.

For the sausage recipes below, you can find specialty ingredients (casings, curing salt) and hardware here. Remember to always work fast to make sure the meat remains cold throughout the preparation, returning the mixture to the freezer for a few minutes if necessary.

Goose fabrication
Yields about 12 large servings

2 geese of 10-12 lb

  • Separate the wings, legs and breast from the carcass. Reserve the legs with their skin for the goose confit. Reserve enough skinned breast meat for the goose “saucisson à l’ail”. Pick the meat from the carcass and bone the wings. Reserve enough skinned carcass, wing and breast meat for the goose liver sausage. Reserve the goose liver for this purpose as well.
  • Render all the unused skin and fat to make goose fat.
  • Use all the bones, neck and remaining offals to make goose stock.
  • Serve any remaining goose breast pan-seared, skin-on.

Goose confit
Yields 4 legs of goose confit

4 goose legs
kosher salt
1/2 tsp curing salt
8 oz goose fat
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
12 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
4 peppercorns, crushed
2 cloves
2 juniper berries

  • Weight the legs, then weigh 3% of that weight in salt. Cover the legs with the salt mixed with the curing salt.
  • Place the salted goose legs, goose fat, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and juniper berries into sous-vide pouches. Cook in a 166 F water bath for 20 hours.
  • Before serving, remove the legs from the pouches, and sear in a hot pan, skin side down, until crispy.

Goose “saucisson à l’ail”
Yields 3 saucissons, each 7″ long

18 oz goose breast, medium dice
8 oz pork fat back, medium dice
3 oz peeled garlic cloves
8 oz rendered goose fat
3 oz breadcrumbs
14 g salt
1/2 g curing salt
2 g black pepper, ground
2 g onion powder
2 g fennel pollen
2-3′ hog middles (2″ diameter casings)

  • Place the goose breast and pork fat back in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan, cover with the goose fat, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Let cool.
  • Mix all the meats, drained garlic cloves, breadcrumbs, salt, curing salt, pepper, onion powder and fennel pollen. Grind the mixture through the large die. Stuff the forcemeat into the casings and twist into 7″ links. Cover with parchment paper, and refrigerate for 24 to 72 hours, turning the sausages every 12 hours.
  • Prick the sausages with a fork, and cook in a 171 F water bath for 30 minutes.
  • Before serving, cut the sausages into 1″ chunks and cook in a pan over medium heat until brown on all sides.

Goose liver sausage
Yields 12 sausages, each 4″ long

21 oz goose meat without skin, medium dice
12 oz pork fat back, medium dice
6 oz goose (or other poultry) liver, medium dice
4 oz onion, small dice
1 tbsp rendered goose fat
15 g salt
1/2 g curing salt
4 g garam masala
4 g porcini flour
9 thyme sprigs, stems removed
3 oz red wine, chilled
4-5′ hog casings (1 1/4″ diameter casings)

  • Place the goose meat, pork fat back and liver in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • Sauté the onion in the goose fat until golden brown, and let cool.
  • Mix all the meats with the onion, salt, curing salt, garam masala, porcini flour and thyme. Grind the mixture through the small die. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, add the red wine, and whip on medium speed for 1 minute. Stuff the forcemeat into the casings and twist into 4″ links. Cover with parchment paper, and refrigerate for 24 to 72 hours, turning the sausages every 12 hours.
  • Prick the sausages with a fork, and cook in a 171 F water bath for 10 minutes.
  • Before serving, finish the sausages in a pan over medium heat until brown on all sides.